Guest of Honor

Keeping Up with Jessica Williams

"The Daily Show" Senior Correspondent tells us about forging her own career path, her brief brush with child stardom, and why the Kardashians might be providing the best drama on TV.

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Jessica Williams co-hosts the new podcast “2 Dope Queens.” But it’s in her role as senior correspondent for “The Daily Show” that she’s become America’s favorite fake-news reporter. Jessica aims her arsenal of quick wit and righteous indignation at everything from politics and race to Beyonce.

In the clip from 2013 below, she tells host John Oliver that she wants to see the NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk” profiling policy expanded… to include the stopping and frisking of Wall-Street types who might possibly be white-collar criminals.


She explained to Rico and Brendan why that bit was the start of her discovering her “Daily Show” schtick.

Interview Highlights

On how she found her comedic voice within “The Daily Show”

Jessica Williams: When I first got hired at the show, I was 22, and I didn’t really know, like, what my character’s shtick was. So, for a while, I would just go into Jon Stewart’s office every now and then, and just be like, “Hey, like, what’s my deal?”

And he’d be like, “What?” And I’d be like, “What’s, like, my thing?” And he was just like, “You’re 22. You’re going to figure it out. Just look for the things that make you feel emotions.” And I was like, “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I don’t know what all those Emmys were for!”

Brendan Francis Newnam: You’re like “CrossFit!”

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Brendan and Jessica chatting on stage at WNYC’s The Greene Space. (Photo Credit:

Jessica Williams: Yeah, like, “Come on, dude! Come on, dad.” Yeah, but that was sort of the stop and frisk policy that was enacted at the time. It was very frustrating, and that was sort of the first bit where I felt like, “Oh, damn! This might be my thing.”

Rico Gagliano: Do you have, like, a lens where you’re just like, “I know that’s not a Jessica Williams story”?

Jessica Williams: Yeah, I do. Like, I can’t deal with… like, I’m 26, so I can’t deal with the economy or, like, money. I can’t…

Rico Gagliano: You just have never had any.

Jessica Williams: Like, I just figured out my taxes, barely, and by figured it out, like, I finally called my mom to thank her for helping me with my taxes.

Rico Gagliano: That’s off limits.

Jessica Williams: I’m just not ready for it.

On how political humor is different for liberals and conservatives

Brendan Francis Newnam: Do you have a theory about why fake news and satire, like, the Left really takes to that for their politics?

Jessica Williams: Well, I think, it’s always been that way. It’s not… you know, I think comedy has always been about those that feel a little bit more disenfranchised and slighted trying to find a way through pain. It’s why, like, sometimes I really like to dig into Fox News’s Facebook page, because it’s really lit with really angry people that don’t get it.

But the things that they have to post, comedy-wise, are, like, terrible. Like, there’s nothing…like, the memes are bad. You know, none of it is really coming from a frame of reference that actually seems like it’s struggling in any sort of way. It’s just like, “Hillary Clinton’s a goblin! Isn’t that funny?” And it’s like, well, no, it’s not There are funnier things.

On how she let the internet know she’s carving out her own career path… and her awkward run-in with her therapist

Rico Gagliano: On your Twitter account, you pinned a tweet that you wrote back in February 2015. It’s stuck to the very top of your Twitter profile page, is what that means, and you wrote it right around the time some people were suggesting you be the next “Daily Show” host. It says:

What did that message mean to you then and now?

Jessica Williams: I think, you know, when Jon announced that he was retiring, a lot of people were like, “Oh, you know, you kick ass at your job!” [Audience applauds] Thank you. “You’re black, and you’re a woman. You should want that job!”

And I felt like, you didn’t ask me! And I felt like if I said, “You didn’t ask me” then I felt people were condescending to me and telling me that I should want it. And at first, I was like, “Well, maybe I should want that. Maybe I should want that job. What’s wrong with me?”

Rico Gagliano: Because you’re in this rare position, in a way.

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Jessica Williams: Yeah, totally. And I was like, “Well, no, I don’t have to.” I go to therapy, like, two times a week, and I love it. Highly recommend therapy. Hi, Heather!

Brendan Francis Newnam: She’s our next guest.

Jessica Williams: Oh, no! That’s so embarrassing. One time, I ran into my therapist in an olive oil shop in Park Slope, and it was the most…

Brendan Francis Newnam: Whoa, wait, stop!

Jessica Williams: …Devastating experience of my life.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Which part’s embarrassing?

Jessica Williams: All of it! All of it! It was, like, Sunday, like, we went to a butcher shop, my boyfriend and I.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, and you said the Right has nothing to make fun of.

Jessica Williams: Yeah.

Rico Gagliano: You just provided it.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Writes itself!

Jessica Williams: Hey, I just want to let you guys know, anybody on the Fox News page, if you guys post it, please don’t make fun of this. But it was embarrassing for multiple levels and…

Rico Gagliano: I can’t remember what the question was that we just asked you, but I do know that we can…

Jessica Williams: To sum it up, I basically just wanted people to feel like: I am a black woman, but there are so many black, female comedians. And I love that you love my work, but I don’t belong to you. And I hope that you trust that I’m able to make the best possible decisions for myself.

On her part in the forgotten Nickelodeon series “Just For Kicks”

Brendan Francis Newnam: You have an acting career outside of “The Daily Show.” And it started long before “The Daily Show,” even though you were the youngest correspondent.

Jessica Williams: Oh, my God.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And you were the star of a Nickelodeon comedy about a girls’ soccer team…

Rico Gagliano: Here comes the title.

Brendan Francis Newnam: “Just for Kicks.”

Rico Gagliano: Oh, yes.

Jessica Williams: Do you get it? It was, like, a play on words. Like, we play soccer.

Rico Gagliano: This is a public radio crowd.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And you really did, you scrubbed the internet and hid everything, but we dug deep, and we found a clip to embarrass you with. [Ed note: click “English” under the “View Trailer” section to the left-hand side to view the clip in question.]

Jessica Williams: Get out of here!

Brendan Francis Newnam: And in this clip, one of your teammates has just made a bad play, and your coach is not pleased with you.

Jessica Williams: How did you get this?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Sorry!

Jessica Williams: Oh, no. I hate you guys.

Rico Gagliano: “One more loss and he’ll be naked.”

Jessica Williams: I sounded like the lady from the Popeye’s Chicken commercial.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I think the writing’s a little better on “The Daily Show.”

(Photo Credit: Nickelodeon/ Viacom)Rico Gagliano: Yeah, you’ve come up in the world, but it did…like, the point of the show was kind of to show, kind of, people of all different classes and races getting together on one team, I think, was sort of the idea?

Jessica Williams: Yeah, and New York City. It’s a place in New York City, and it was supposed to be like “Sex and the City,” but for girls that want to play soccer. So, every girl’s different!

Rico Gagliano: That seems terrible. That seems like a terrible idea.

Jessica Williams: It was canceled after one season.

Rico Gagliano: All right, there you go.

Jessica Williams: But I remember when it got canceled, I was, like, 15, and I was like, “I am never going to act again!” Like, I cried. I was like, “This is the end for me.” Like, “If they don’t love me like that, how will they love me?” You know, “How will I love myself?” What a journey I’ve been on.

Rico Gagliano: It’s really true.

Jessica Williams: It’s like Ru Paul says, you know, “How are you going to love somebody if you can’t love yourself?”

Rico Gagliano: You can’t. It’s not possible.

Jessica Williams: Great show.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Good question.

On the question she’s tired of being asked

Rico Gagliano: All right, we have two standard questions that we ask all guests on our show, and the first one is: if we were to — I think I know the answer to this question — if we were to meet you at a dinner party, what question should we not ask you? Probably about that show.

Jessica Williams: If you can touch my hair. No.

Rico Gagliano: Oh, interesting.

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Jessica Williams: And also, I hate getting catcalled. So, I hate, like, “You got a man?” And it’s like, “It doesn’t matter; never will this happen.”

Once I was walking down the street, and there was this tiny man, and it was just me and him. I’m a tall — I’m six-foot tall — and he was walking towards, and I was walking towards him, and then he was like, “Hey, what’s up, girl?”

And I was like, “Nothing.” I’m, like, walking, on my commute. Like, “Excuse me!” And I was walking, and he yells after me — like, we pass each other — and he’s like, “So, let me get this straight. You probably only date tall dudes, right?”

And I was like, “Yeah!” And then, all he did was point to himself, and he went, “So, no?” And I was like, “No!” and he was like, “All right, baby, you stay blessed. See you later!”

And then he, like, floated into the beautiful world that he crawled out of where every man is, like, a delightful catcaller.

On being a “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” fan

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, we have another question.

Jessica Williams: Love it, go ahead.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Tell us something we don’t know.

Jessica Williams: About me?

Rico Gagliano: Or the world at large. Actually, it could be trivia about anything.

Jessica Williams: About the world? I’ve probably seen about 75 percent of all the “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” episodes.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh, interesting.

Jessica Williams: I have. I love watching Caitlyn Jenner. Observing Caitlyn Jenner from the perspective of knowing how things change in seven years, and observing, like, Caitlyn Jenner then, and seeing how Caitlyn Jenner functions in the household.

Rico Gagliano: You’re making this sound like a valid choice that you made to keep up with the Kardashians.

Jessica Williams: Oh, no, I’m, like, amaz[ed]. Like, I think about them and how they affect society because they are!

Like, really. Like, what is it about…like, this is obviously a group of women who are making so much money. A lot of them are women of color. They do interracial dating. The joke is that they date black dudes. Like, what does that mean? How does that affect society?

One of them was, like, she dated a dude, and then just refused to marry him and just had kids because she wanted to. So, she made a choice that she didn’t want to marry this dude. And then, also, you see one dealing with the marriage of somebody who’s battling an addiction.

You see one of them… you see her face changes because, technically, Kylie was born as a white person. Like, Kris Jenner is a white person. And so, you see her change to look more Armenian like her older sisters, her half-sisters. It’s crazy!

Rico Gagliano: Why do we watch anything else? It sounds like…

Brendan Francis Newnam: I know.

Jessica Williams: I don’t know!




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